Interview and Project By Susan Stout; blog post written by Erika Wigren
“You know you tell people we were interned, we were in a concentration camp…they really don’t know until you get behind that barbed wire fence and you’re enclosed and you can’t get out…they take that freedom from you.” — Thomas Shoji Takemura.
Thomas Shoji Takemura was born in Fife, Washington in 1920. He was a Nisei, a first generation Japanese born in the United States.
In 1942, at the age of 22, Takemura was interned at the Puyallup Assembly Center, also known as Camp Harmony.
In this oral history interview, Takemura explains how, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were labeled enemy aliens, unfit for military service.
“I was reclassified by the Draft Board from I-A to 4-C, enemy alien unfit for military service. That shocked me more than anything because after all you know you’re taught throughout grade school and high school that the United States Constitution was there for you to be protected by it and if you were born and raised here, you’re a citizen of the United States. And then you are informed that you are an enemy alien unfit for military service. Alien is a person without citizenship of this country. So my rights were taken away.”
Takemura describes the difficult living and working conditions of Camp Harmony. At the camp, he explained, there was little to no furniture for families to live with and most people slept on the floor or a straw pile with a mattress cover. What internees could bring with them to the camps was limited as well.
“What we could bring was whatever you could carry. That was the instructions given to those of us who were being interned. So if you were lucky to carry enough blankets, you had enough blankets; but you had to use that blanket as a partition from the other family. So these were the burden of difficulty that we had to face.”
Takemura eventually obtained a release to work at a U & I factory processing sugar beets in Chinook, Montana.
About a year after Japanese interment, the U.S. military decided to allow Japanese Americans to serve in the military. Having been drafted by the army, Takemura served in WWII.
Later in his life, Takemura worked for New York Life Insurance Company and became an active community volunteer. He volunteered at local schools to inform students about his internment and the Japanese experience during and after World War II.
Takemura was awarded the JACL Sapphire Service Award and The Henry Ohye Flying Race and Riverside PTA Golden Acorn Award.
He died at the age of 77 in Tacoma.